People often ask me what’s the hardest part about being diagnosed with celiac disease and needing to become gluten free. The answer for me is easy: worrying about gluten cross contamination (and the fact that none of the gluten free Oreo knock offs taste remotely like the real thing!) Cross contamination, in my opinion, is the Achilles heel of someone with celiac disease. It’s that annoying voice in the back of your celiac head that just won’t go away. Gluten cross contamination is what allows gluten to be somewhere it has no right to be. And it’s something that we always have to worry about!
For instance, rice, a naturally gluten free food, will sometimes have trace amounts of gluten in it if it’s made in a facility that also processes gluten products. So, if you have celiac disease and you want to make a stir fry, you can’t simply buy any brand of rice: you have to be sure what you use is free from gluten cross contamination. Luckily, some brands will have the readily apparent “certified gluten free” stamp of approval, thus dismissing any cross contamination woes. However, it’s not always that easy. The number of times I’ve stood in the middle of the grocery store trying to Google whether something was actually gluten free or if cross contamination was thwarting my cooking plans is way too high. Unfortunately I’ve also discovered that a lot of grocery stores have poor cell service! So now I’ve learned to be a more intentional shopper. I plan my meals ahead of time so I can make shopping lists and do my brand research before I leave my house, a technique I suggest to any newly diagnosed celiac.
As if worrying about gluten cross contamination and how it applies to my food wasn’t bad enough, I also have to consider my beauty products, detergents, hand soaps, and any other household products that might touch my skin for a prolonged period of time. When I found out that I was unknowingly undermining my strict gluten free diet by using a lip-gloss that had gluten from cross contamination, I was furious. Just think of all the Oreos I had missed out on for nothing! I now do a lot of research before I invest in a new beauty or household item to make sure gluten isn’t hidden in the product due to cross contamination during manufacturing.
While this constant diligence about hidden gluten and cross contamination can be annoying and exhausting, it has also been a blessing. A year ago, I was 70 pounds heavier, had dangerously high liver enzymes, debilitating back pain, daily stomach problems, constant fatigue, and minor depression. Today, I am an entirely different person. I am down four dress sizes, I have normal liver levels for the first time in five years, and I am back pain free!
In some respects, I’m lucky. Some diseases have no fix, no way to alleviate the pain and suffering. Mine does. Cut gluten out of my life. Sure, I felt sorry for myself at first – I still do some days – and I mourned the loss of delicious foods I’d never taste again, but I also learned how to get healthy, something I’d been failing at for years and years. If I have to constantly Google whether a brand is gluten free and safe from cross contamination, so be it. It’s a small price to pay for my health being back on track.
New to being gluten free? Check out Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free: Essential Guide to Managing Celiac Disease and Related Conditions for helpful advice and tips to make being gluten-free painless.
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